June 20, 2024 

The Point Gawd is back: What Chelsea Gray’s return looked like for the Aces

Gray: 'It was great and just like a rush and a feeling that I missed a lot'

Just one. That’s how many games Chelsea Gray had missed in her last eight seasons. She had played in 283 out of a possible 284 games before she injured her foot in Game 3 of the 2023 WNBA finals. Those 283 games included 3,448 regular season points and 1,407 regular season assists. After missing the first 12 games of this season recovering from said foot injury, Gray returned to the floor Wednesday night. Even before she stepped on the court, she felt the emotions and they only grew once she heard the crowd.

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“A little emotional, excitement, I was anxious all day,” Gray said following the game. “I was telling my wife, she was like ‘you alright’ [and I said] ‘I’m alright, just a lot of emotion’. It’s been a long time since I’ve been out on that court, but the fans they were amazing, from the time I came out to warm up to the time I checked into the game. It was great and just like a rush and a feeling that I missed a lot.”

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Gray checked in for the first time with 1:41 remaining in the first quarter to a roaring standing ovation from the Michelob Ultra Arena crowd. In her first pass of the game, Gray hit Alysha Clark on a pick-and-pop for a wide open left wing three. Clark hit nothing but nylon and gave Gray her first assist of the season, which also happened to be the 1,500th of her career. The rest of her night from there was full of the thing Gray is known for, dropping dimes.

Gray finished the game with just one point but had seven assists in 15 minutes of game action. Her second pass of the game was a behind the back pass to Jackie Young, but the help defense came over and Young wasn’t able to take a shot. However, it showed Gray was back and confident in her passing ability, her greatest strength. The Aces put her in a few different positions to help make it easier for her to use her basketball IQ and limit her exposure to contact. At the end of the first quarter, Gray was directing traffic to set up her teammates in the right spot for the play they wanted to run, something she does time and again for the back-to-back champs.

“I felt in in my heart,” said Becky Hammon on seeing her point guard back on the floor. “I think everybody was just super excited for her. She’s the leader of our team. I thought she had a wonderful attitude also…[tonight] it was just putting her in a spot where I could use her eyes. I didn’t need her feet doing a lot. Putting her in that spot, she’s deadly from midrange. I just wanted to get her the ball at the elbow area with good real estate and then just let her make reads.”

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Gray wasn’t able to find her offensive game, missing both of her shots, but the looks were within the flow of the Aces offense. Her first was a wide open three that came in the rhythm of the offense while the second was a mid-range jumper she missed. Both shots were short, showing Gray still needs to build confidence in her foot and continue to strengthen it but they were the right looks for her. She made one of her two free throws, finishing the night with just one point.

Las Vegas Aces guard Chelsea Gray stands on the sideline in sweats with her arms behind her back.
Las Vegas Aces guard Chelsea Gray stands on the sideline and watches her teammates play against the Minnesota Lynx as she recovers from an injury. (Photo credit: John McClellan | The Next)

Defensively, Gray has always been a solid defender and for the most part on Wednesday, she held her own. She didn’t have the toughest assignments but multiple times she was in help and talking to her teammates about where they were supposed to be. She had a nice block of Jordan Horston on a post up and had one of her signature rip-through steals on a Skylar Diggins-Smith drive in transition. Gray’s impact is felt on both sides of the ball and her teammates are thrilled to have her back on the court.

“It feels great having her back,” Jackie Young said. “We definitely missed her and she had been kind of like a coach for us on the sidelines. She sees a lot of things that we don’t see and so even though she wasn’t out there on the court with us for a few games, she was still very active with us. Helping me, especially when I was playing the one a lot but having her back it’s great. It was good having her back out there.”

The only major time Gray ever missed was her entire rookie year as she recovered from a torn ACL she suffered her senior year at Duke. For her, the biggest difference in this recovery process compared to her ACL tear was the ability she had to go into the Aces facility and get seen whenever she wanted. With her through the whole process was Aces rehabilitation specialist Jerrica Thomas. Gray said Thomas was there every time she was angry, cried, irritated and most importantly joyful as she got back to full strength. The resources the Aces have were huge in Gray’s return to the court.

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As the game got down to crunch time, Gray subbed back in. In her final four minutes, she picked up a rebound and two assists, including the dagger to Alysha Clark for another three. In fact, four of Gray’s seven assists went to Clark, accounting for all ten of Clark’s points on the night.

Hammon said after the game she would check with Gray on how she was feeling. Gray gave the media thumbs up when asked how she was doing. How her minutes will grow and when she will get back into the starting lineup is still unknown, but Wednesday night showed that in Gray’s time away, she didn’t lose any of her basketball IQ. In fact, it may have even grown. Her shot will come as she gets more strength and confidence in her foot, but Gray is back and that is huge for the Las Vegas Aces.

“When you’re such a competitor and you want to be with your teammates and just like you have to stay patient and mentally locked in,” said Gray of watching her teammates from the sideline the first 12 games of the season. “You go through ups and downs a little bit. It’s been tears. It’s been happy tears. It’s been sad and it’s been frustration but it’s all part of the process and you get back and you are better for it.”

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Written by Matthew Walter

Matthew Walter covers the Las Vegas Aces, the Pac-12 and the WCC for the Next. He is a former Director of Basketball Operations and Video Coordinator at three different Division I women's basketball programs.

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